Exploring Citizen Kane Film Techniques: A Cinematography Masterclass

December 28, 2023
8 min read
By George Djaniants
Exploring Citizen Kane Film Techniques A Cinematography Masterclass

Welcoming you on a voyage through the realm of Citizen Kane's film techniques, we delve into the power wielded by its exceptional use of lighting. The film's arresting black and white hues propel the narrative onward, successfully underscoring the subtle emotions and tension within each scene. In this masterclass, we will dissect the various innovative cinematographic techniques employed in Citizen Kane, traversing the depths of deep focus, montage sequences, cross-fading, and visual storytelling. As we progress, we will unpack the renowned low-angle shots, lengthy takes, creatively used screen space, and the enigmatic optical printing technique that set this film apart. Every aspect covered here adds another layer of brilliance to the unforgettable film that continues to inspire generations. In the midst of all this, remember, each technique isn't merely a technical feat, but is expertly woven to serve the story and its characters, thereby revealing the sheer wizardry of director Orson Welles. Let's get started, illuminating one corner of Citizen Kane's cinematic landscape at a time.

The Usage of Deep Focus in Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane strikingly employs the use of deep focus, a cinematographic technique that allows both the foreground and background of a shot to be in sharp focus simultaneously. This unique visual approach, pioneered by director Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland, allows the filmmakers to convey a narrative's emotional depth and progression without the need for excessive cuts or camera movement. This technique is especially notable in the scene where young Charles Foster Kane is seen playing in the snow outside through a window while his future is being determined by adults indoors, allowing viewers to focus on multiple narratives simultaneously and understand the emotional implications more deeply.

Welles and Toland's innovative scene compositions and character placements through this deep focus technique further amplifies the narrative depth. Characters placed at varying distances from the camera, all in sharp focus, provide viewers the opportunity to grasp different narrative components at once. For instance, during a tense confrontation between Kane and his friend Leland, both characters, though separated spatially, share an equivalent narrative weight due to the innovative execution of deep focus. These techniques not only showcase Welles's storytelling prowess but also influence future generations of filmmakers, marking Citizen Kane as a remarkable piece of cinematography art.

Dissecting the Montage Sequence in Citizen Kane

Exploring the nuances of the montage sequence in Citizen Kane provides insights into Orson Welles's cinematic mastery and storytelling acumen. Paramount to the film, the montage serves as a fundamental storytelling device, which illustrates character development and propels the narrative. For instance, Welles ingeniously uses a breakfast montage scene to depict the disintegration of Kane's first marriage, effectively compressing years of narrative time into mere minutes.

In Citizen Kane, the montage sequence isn't merely a collection of related shots, but a tool for temporal manipulation. It allows the filmmaker to display the transformation of time in a cinematic space. The ‘News on March’ sequence is a fitting example where Welles employs montage to portray a faux newsreel, which summarises the life of the enigmatic protagonist in fractions of time. This presents the passage of time in a unique, condensed pattern that allows the storyline to move quickly, efficiently and innovatively.

Observing these traits affirms the mastery of Orson Welles over the montage technique. Welles understood not only the visuals but the rhythm and juxtaposition of images and how they could suggest ideas and emotions. The montage sequences are crafted carefully to guide the viewers’ understanding of the story and characters, driving dramatic emphasis while promoting visual engagement. The blend of artistry and skill in the application of montage by Welles is a testament to his place in cinema history.

The Cross-Fading Practice Adopted in Citizen Kane

Cross-fading, a technique widely utilized in the world of filmmaking, played a significant role in the narrative structure of Citizen Kane. Developed as a potent storytelling tool by the revered director Orson Welles, cross-fading in Citizen Kane skillfully blurred the lines between scenes, effortlessly transitioning from one moment to another. This facilitated the seamless flow of the narrative, allowing the audience to delve deeper into the intricate depths of the storyline. For instance, Welles' unique use of cross-fading in the scene where Susan attempts suicide effectively juxtaposed her despair with Kane’s distant demeanor, fostering enhanced emotional engagement from viewers.

This technique became an influential aspect of Citizen Kane’s narrative and stylistic signature. Not merely bridging the gap between time and scenes, it meticulously presented visual metaphors and symbolism. Furthermore, it was significantly utilized to highlight poignant turning points, reflecting the underlining emotions and the evolving dynamics of the characters. Notable instances include the scenes involving Kane's childhood, which were profoundly revealed through Welles' adept application of cross-fading to present a non-linear narrative, setting a precedent in film history.

The visionary use of cross-fading by Welles had a lasting impact on the future generations of filmmaking. Inspirational for its subtlety and effectiveness, it demonstrated how adept transitions could enhance a film's storytelling abilities. The technique was particularly pivotal in enhancing the cinematic experience of Citizen Kane, showing how innovation in film technique could resonate emotionally with audiences and drive the narrative powerfully, inspiring filmmakers for years to come.

The Visual Storytelling Technique of Citizen Kane

the visual storytelling technique of citizen kane

Orson Welles' Citizen Kane introduced revolutionary visual storytelling techniques that went on to shape future generations of filmmaking. Citizen Kane’s narrative is intricately guided by a variety of visual cues. This instilled a new dimension into storytelling where not just the characters and dialogue, but also the visuals told the tale, often speaking volumes in their subtle nuances. This shifted the audience's gaze and underlined the need for active interpretation and participation.

The film utilized visual cues extensively, forging a more emotional and profound connection with the viewers. From the haunting shadows of Xanadu to the pristine whiteness of Susan's opera house, visual storytelling in Citizen Kane didn't merely supplement the narrative but formed an integral part of the story itself. This meticulously crafted visual aura amplified the emotional depth of the narrative and provided a richer contour to the character development.

Moreover, the art of visual storytelling in Citizen Kane transcends commonplace narration and delves into symbolic representation. The film is often celebrated for its layered visual symbolism - an excellent demonstration of how mise-en-scène, cinematography, and art design wrap around the narrative to manifest symbolic representation. For instance, the recurring motif of the 'No Trespassing' sign or the enigmatic 'Rosebud' sled resonate with symbolic implications, playing pivotal roles in unveiling the narrative.

In summary, Citizen Kane reshaped cinematic language through its multifaceted approach to visual storytelling. This not only highlighted underexplored avenues in narrative storytelling but also laid the foundation for many stylistic innovations to come, most remarkably in the realm of New Hollywood Cinema. Its profound influence on generations of filmmakers testifies to the enduring legacy of Citizen Kane’s visual storytelling mastery.

The Signature Low-Angle Shots of Citizen Kane

the signature low angle shots of citizen kane

Citizen Kane's use of low-angle shots is remarkable, invoking a unique stylistic approach. This technique serves multiple purposes, one being the revelation of complex character dimensions. The camera angled upwards gives the audience the perspective of a character looming large over them, increasing their perceived power and importance. It dramatically impacts character interpretation and the emotional response of the viewers.

Breaking from conventional filming techniques, these low-angle shots lend distinct visual dynamism to the film. They create a sense of unease in the audience, shifting the balance of power between characters. This off-kilter technique interfered with the viewer's comfort zone, presenting skewed perspectives that fostered intrigue.

These shots also carry thematic implications, showcasing the dichotomy between power and vulnerability. For instance, visually empowering Charles Kane with low-angle shots, yet addressing his emotional insecurity and fragility through dialogue, contributes to the film's rich context.

Orson Welles's innovative approach to filmmaking is wildly on display in his choice of camera angles. The low-angle shots, in particular, have received accolades for their inventiveness and impact on storytelling. This bold deviation from mainstream camera techniques underscores Welles’s mastery.

Highlighting this distinctive technique in Citizen Kane speaks volumes about Welles's approach to cinema. It serves to amplify the narrative, developing characters and impacting audience perception profoundly. Such a creative use of low-angle shots testifies to Orson Welles's pioneering spirit, propelling the film into cinematic greatness.

Mastering the Art of Lengthy Takes

Citizen Kane is recognized for revolutionizing the cinematic form with its masterful use of lengthy takes, particularly in its narrative process. This filming technique is distinguished by an unusually enduring single shot, allowing sequences to unfold naturally without any cuts. In Citizen Kane, Welles uses long takes ingeniously to create an orchestration of cinematic elements, pushing the boundaries of storytelling. An exceptional illustration of this is the tour of Susan Alexander's opera house, where a fluid, constant take enables viewers to feel immersed in the grandeur and emptiness of the space in a starkly real way.

The long take technique isn't just serving aesthetics; it builds tension and suspense in a unique way that drives the narrative. The absence of cuts keeps audiences in extended suspense as the action unfolds unpredictably in real-time. For instance, the tense breakfast montage featuring Charles Foster Kane and his wife speaks volumes about the disintegration of their relationship, all captured in one sequence without a break. Executing a successful long take is a complex endeavor requiring considerable directorial acumen, meticulous planning, and an experienced crew. In the hands of a visionary like Orson Welles, these lengthy takes become masterclasses, an exercise in orchestrating on-screen action and off-screen implications in a single, memorable stroke.

Reimagining the Use of Screen Space

The unconventional use of screen space in Citizen Kane is a prominent and illustrative feature that lends profundity to its groundbreaking storytelling style. Expertly crafted by Orson Welles, the film utilizes screen space in innovative ways that were radical for its era, challenging the norms of conventional filmmaking. This creative utilization of space does much more than merely frame characters or establish scenes. It meticulously reinforces the film's themes and narratives, intertwining form and content in a visually engaging manner. For instance, this abstract use of screen space can be seen in scenes such as Kane walking away into a mirror-lined hallway, creating an increasing sense of fragmentation and dissolution. Such instances, that blend the omnipresence of space with the human presence within it, embed layers of meaning, reflecting not just the film’s layered narrative, but also its deeper thematic underpinnings. This nuanced, yet powerful, use of screen space in Citizen Kane has marked it as a trailblazer in explorative cinema, laying down a blueprint for innovative filmmaking for generations to follow.

Citizen Kane’s Optical Printing Technique Decoded

In conclusion, one of the truly standout techniques utilized in Citizen Kane is the optical printing method. It is an intricate process that marks a significant step forward in the way filmmakers approach cinema. A deep dive into this technique reveals its defining role in the film, from subtle narrative enhancements to bold cinematic statements. This technique was not simply implemented; rather, it was masterfully manipulated to serve the overarching themes and narrative of the film. Ultimately, Citizen Kane's use of optical printing built a bridge between traditional filmmaking and a new era of cinematic exploration and ingenuity, validating the film's unique place in the annals of cinematic history. Such astute application of this technique is a testament to Orson Welles's vision and mastery, making Citizen Kane an enduring cinematography masterclass.

Published on December 28, 2023 by George Djaniants

George Djaniants

CEO & Co-Founder